Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Power Consumption Solved: Magnetic Processors

By - Source: UC Berkeley | B 44 comments

All right, let's be optimistic here: it's not going to entirely wipe power-hungry processors and memory off the charts anytime soon.

But there is at least an idea how to reduce the power consumption of semiconductor devices by a factor of 1 million.

The basic idea is to simply eliminate the flow of electrons, the ultimate source of power consumption. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley said that magnetic processors could work without the need of electrons and function near the minimum power limit allowed by the second law of thermodynamics (Landauer limit). The project group estimates that a magnetic chip may only consume 18 millielectron volts of energy per operation at room temperature, which is about 1 million times below today's processors.

Instead of a traditional circuit, such magnetic processors could use nanometer-sized bar magnets for memory, logic and switching operations. "Today, computers run on electricity; by moving electrons around a circuit, you can process information," said Brian Lambson, a UC Berkeley graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. "A magnetic computer, on the other hand, doesn't involve any moving electrons. You store and process information using magnets, and if you make these magnets really small, you can basically pack them very close together so that they interact with one another. This is how we are able to do computations, have memory and conduct all the functions of a computer."

While the goal is to create a computer that works at the Landauer limit, magnetic chips have substantial challenges - including the fact that they are not exactly small. The nanomagnets the Berkeley team is currently using to build magnetic memory are about 100 nanometers wide and about 200 nanometers long. They enable simple logic operations, but they are more than 10 times the size of traditional chip structures that are in development now. Lambson also noted that the magnets can be used as memory, but "the real challenge is getting the wires and transistors working." The magnets are also vulnerable to random "fluctuations from thermal effects, stray electromagnetic fields and other kinds of noise."

Needless to say, this technology is far from being mature. But hey, we can dream, right?

Discuss
Display all 44 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • -8 Hide
    dogman_1234 , July 6, 2011 6:09 AM
    So, are we going backwards?
  • 5 Hide
    fstrthnu , July 6, 2011 6:14 AM
    Well with their current size and more functions with the processors and memory, they'd make pretty mean server chips.
  • -3 Hide
    cuecuemore , July 6, 2011 6:25 AM
    Just keep that electromagnet well clear of your HDD(s) O.o
  • -7 Hide
    iwod , July 6, 2011 7:14 AM
    It is an idea, in practice it will never work.
  • -4 Hide
    dogman_1234 , July 6, 2011 7:20 AM
    alhanelemis it me or are we slowly phasing out the current technologies?magnetic processors replacing today's processors, graphene replacing silicone, phase change memory replacing flash....is it really that good to replace everything? im having trouble keeping up with all this



    What I see is simple concepts like IC's being flung around in one million different tech ideas. Basically, everyone will have their own way of doing one simple thing. This will be too economically straining on the world.
  • 6 Hide
    apache_lives , July 6, 2011 8:12 AM
    CuecuemoreJust keep that electromagnet well clear of your HDD(s) O.o


    you do know your hdd has the biggest most powerful magnet inside it compared to every other component in the system hell more powerful then most speaker magnets for short range?
  • 9 Hide
    ojas , July 6, 2011 8:14 AM
    Yup it's good to dream, and it's great to keep working towards them and making them a reality. It's also good not to bee too skeptical about new tech. They may sound impractical now, but hey, 200 years ago if you told anyone about a transistor the size of a large bacterium, you'd be put in a mad-house.
    Actually even 70 years ago it wasn't really thought possible.

    Ultra low power processors may be the future to a sustainable economy...imagine comps running off solar panels, and powering Crysis 8 maxed out in full 4D? :D 
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , July 6, 2011 10:11 AM
    "All right, let's be optimistic here: it's not going to entirely wipe power-hungry processors and memory off the charts anytime soon."

    Um, is it just me or does this first (bolded) sentence make absolutely no sense? I think you meant realistic and not optimistic?

    Power-hungry carries a hugely negative connotation and also the article implies that you are "dream"ing about this newer technology, so I cannot think of any other explanation.

    Needless to say, whether I have somehow misinterpreted your meaning or not, it clearly looks like a mistake right now.
  • 1 Hide
    clonazepam , July 6, 2011 10:13 AM
    I always think about who's gonna be the one to throw away every convention we have, and start from the ground up. Like setting up an R&D dept that pretends to not know sockets, slots, cpu's, gpu's, atx, m-atx, x86, x64, ARM exists at all. Start out with specific goals for size, computational power, and power consumption. Pretty hard i bet but i can dream. :) 
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , July 6, 2011 11:14 AM
    These ideas are really nothing new, quantum computing and other similar ideas have been floated around before. Generally these types of processors do one useless task incredibly fast and have a whole lot of trouble doing anything else at any speed. Transistors aren't so bad for now, money would be better spent switching away from silicon in order to make the next leap. Then again the number of FLOPS your machine is capable of is really more than enough for the average Joe, just tell your software manufacturer to quit using so many of them to do simple tasks :) 
  • 4 Hide
    clonazepam , July 6, 2011 11:30 AM
    Maybe someday a computer can render and store a dream for instantaneous playback... once we learn how to jack into our noggins. hah ;-)
  • 0 Hide
    nebun , July 6, 2011 12:15 PM
    if this is so easy and simple to do how come we don't use it now? wait...it's not...what about price?
  • 0 Hide
    archange , July 6, 2011 12:17 PM
    dogman_1234So, are we going backwards?


    Hahah - you have no idea!

    In fact this concept is rather similar to an earlier computational model which I post below. It's just that they use magnets so they stick together:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abacus
  • 0 Hide
    ojas , July 6, 2011 12:48 PM
    CuecuemoreJust keep that electromagnet well clear of your HDD(s) O.o


    forgot to say this, it takes an industrial car magnet at around 200mT (millitesla) and stronger to wipe a HDD. Even bar magnets cant do much to it, let alone these magnetic processors.
  • 0 Hide
    alidan , July 6, 2011 1:14 PM
    alhanelemis it me or are we slowly phasing out the current technologies?magnetic processors replacing today's processors, graphene replacing silicone, phase change memory replacing flash....is it really that good to replace everything? im having trouble keeping up with all this


    graphene replacing silicone - graphene in labs can handle 50ghz on air cooling. and are capable of running at speeds that are impossible (faster than light... when i say faster than light i dont mean it works, it doesnt, but it can handle that kind of speed.) without to extreme of cooling measures.

    phase change memory replacing flash - its faster than what we currently have, and is a step in the right direction.

    magnetic processors replacing today's processors - they wont, ever... for a real computer, they will never replace it. however, on a server, on other things that need a processor but don't need an emencly powerful one this would use less power than most things use while its turned completely off (but still plugged in)
  • 1 Hide
    youssef 2010 , July 6, 2011 1:30 PM
    Well, less power=less heat= less fan noise


    .....Time to get rid of my fans :) 
  • 0 Hide
    blackened144 , July 6, 2011 1:32 PM
    Im still waiting for my quantum desktop computer.. I think I'll get that right after I buy my flying car..
  • -2 Hide
    CaedenV , July 6, 2011 2:39 PM
    ojasforgot to say this, it takes an industrial car magnet at around 200mT (millitesla) and stronger to wipe a HDD. Even bar magnets cant do much to it, let alone these magnetic processors.


    I think the point was that the HDD would screw up the proc, not the other way around
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 6, 2011 2:43 PM
    none of this is going to happen. research like this has always been happening, adoption of it rarely occurs
Display more comments